Category Archives: assessment

What role do/can/should students play in their own assessment?

Today I am going to try to respond to another question I posed in a recent post about assessment. If you want to read my musings about the first two questions, you can read them here and here. I don’t pretend to have all the answers to these questions but ruminating about them allows me to consider some possible solutions or points of view. I invite readers of this blog to engage in this conversation with me. 

I also want to acknowledge my PLN – #sblchat – for bold discussions on standards based grading and learning that are enriching my thinking about assessment.

What role do/can/should students play in their own assessment?

This is one of my favourite questions about assessment.

For me, it is so crystal clear that students need to be involved in their own assessment, that it’s almost a non sequitur. Creating projects; setting goals and developing plans to meet them; assessing progress on those goals; and setting new goals, are all important aspects of the role students can play in their own assessment. 

Knowing how to monitor learning – the process and the product – should not be the sole domain of the teacher. Students can be taught to do this as well. This requires an environment of trust and safety so that students can take reasonable risks. It also requires modelling and practice by both the teacher and the students. As Katie Wood Ray once said to a group of teachers, ‘Whatever assignment you give your students, you must do yourself at least once,’ that way you can anticipate problems and challenges that students may encounter. Furthermore, you will be able to provide strategies for students as they tackle new learning.

Self-assessments can take many forms. Some of the more familiar ones are written or oral reflections, exit tickets, checklists, and questionnaires. Some brave teachers go as far as determining grades jointly with their students. If there is a great deal of discrepancy between the two grades, then the teacher can engage in a conversation with the student to determine where their perceptions differ. How that is handled after that would be determined by the comfort level and staying power of the teacher.

The point here is that we need to find as many different ways as possible for students to take ownership of their learning. Including students in their own assessment is a critical step in this direction.
     

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Who is responsible for making sure students learn?

Over the next few days, I am going to try to respond to some of the questions I posed in yesterday’s post about assessment. You can read that post here. I don’t pretend to have all the answers to these questions but ruminating about them allows me to consider some possible solutions or points of view. I invite readers of this blog to engage in this conversation with me. 

I also want to acknowledge my PLN – #sblchat – for bold discussions on standards based grading and learning that are enriching my thinking about assessment.

Whose responsibility is it to make sure students learn? 
Is it the responsibility of parents? 
Teachers?
Students?
Or, perhaps a combination of two or more of the above?


The short answer to this question is: everyone who touches the life of a child is responsible for his or her learning. This includes the child, of course. However, when it comes to learning in schools there is no doubt in my mind that the primary person responsible for a child’s learning is the teacher herself. 

As the more expert learner in the room, it is the teacher’s responsibility to do everything she can to make sure that students learn. 

It means puzzling over a child who isn’t learning according to expectations, however this is defined. 

It means trying out many different ways to reach a child who poses a challenge to the teacher either through resistance or something else.
It means dispensing with blame and looking for solutions. 

It means seeking the help of colleagues, if necessary.

It means not giving up on a child.

It means withholding judgements about aptitude, family life, etc.

It means recognizing what a child brings into the classroom and capitalizing on that in order to be a better teacher to that child.

It means that if a child “fails” then the teacher has failed also. And, the teacher needs to determine what went wrong in order to improve her teaching.

Teaching is an intriguing profession. There’s no teacher’s guide that can address the many needs and peculiarities of a classroom full of individual students. A teacher who abides by a one-size-fits-all mentality cannot meet the needs of her students. In fact, every teacher needs to be many different teachers depending on the child. 

I think this is what some people miss when talking about differentiation. It’s not only about adapting tasks to different levels of understanding or skills. It’s about knowing each student so well that the teacher is able to change her strategies according to the needs of her students.

Some teachers can’t do this; I’m beginning to think they should be coached out of teaching. 

Since schools are places of learning for adults and children alike, teachers cannot abdicate this responsibility. Students need teachers who are learners, first and foremost.   

As Carol Ann Tomlinson said in the foreword to Rick Wormeli’s book on differentiation: ‘look for the learners in your school and become their friends.’
(Please note that this is paraphrased since I don’t have a copy of the book with me at the moment.) 

Cross posted to March Slice of Life Challenge, Day #27.



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Questions on Assessment

In my conversations with teachers, and in no particular order, the following questions keep coming up. Some questions are borne out of a deep frustration with practices that are not working, and with students that don’t do school the way teachers think they should. 

I offer these questions as food for thought. In future posts, I will attempt to answer them from my current perspective as a middle school ESL teacher. 

I welcome comments on any of these questions including new questions that need to be addressed.

Whose responsibility is it to make sure students learn? 
Is it the responsibility of parents? 
Teachers?
Students?
Or, perhaps a combination of two or more of the above?

What should teachers do to prepare students for an upcoming assessment? Is that even the right question to ask?

Is it enough to have students review material before a test? 

What does that mean exactly?
Should teachers provide study guides?


If a teacher provides a study guide, with time in class for review, and provides a practice test that is exactly the same as the real test with some parts slightly changed, such as the numbers on a math test, is the teacher then absolved of all responsibility?

Are retakes OK? All the time? Some of the time? Under certain conditions? For full credit?

Are partner quizzes OK? How should they be scored? What is the purpose of partner quizzes? Quizzes in general? For formative purposes? As a summative grade?

What role do/can/should students play in their own assessment?

How do we shift from a focus on punishment to a focus on learning?

And, we come back full circle, if a student doesn’t meet our expectations, who is responsible? 

Can we teach in a different way to help our students learn better?

Who is responsible for student learning? 
And, what does that mean exactly?? 
Who is learning? Only the student? Just the teacher? Both?
Who is responsible? Only the student? Just the teacher? Both?
What’s the learning to be done? 
Who decides that?

Who is responsible for making sure students learn?

Are we coddling students? (Some teachers really want to know the answer to this one.)

Can we truly make students learn? (This is not a trick question.)
And, what should happen when they don’t?

You’d think that we’d have figured this out by now.

Cross posted to March Slice of Life Challenge, Day #26.

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New Teacher Orientation – Day 2

     Yesterday was the second day of orientation for new teachers.  As usual, there’s a lot of information to digest and, although I retained some key ideas, I’m sure I will be relearning a lot of things over the coming months.  And, even though many of us present have done similar kinds of orientation sessions more than once in our careers, it’s still important to do this now because as new teachers at this school we need to build our capacity for when the rest of the faculty joins us next week.  Doing this work in a group of new teachers helps us develop common understandings about what this school is all about.  We’ll need these understandings in order to continue to participate in future conversations at our new school.

     At yesterday’s session we spent most of the morning talking about assessment.  First, we were asked to discuss the following three questions:  How does assessment impact student learning?  What is the role of assessment in unit/lesson planning?  And, what role does the student play in assessment?  Then, each group shared important pieces of their discussion.  Many of the groups were thinking alike though there was some discussion about what is the difference between formative (assessment-for-learning) and summative assessments (assessment-of-learning) and how much emphasis to place on each kind.

     The bottom line is that formative assessments are intended to serve as guiding posts along the way to help the teacher and students determine how well students are doing and where the teacher might need to go next with a particular student or group of students.  My small group talked about the importance of giving kids choice, differentiating instruction and assessment tasks, student self-assessment, developing clearly defined and visible learning goals, and the place and importance of using formative assessment vs. summative assessments.  

     What I like about assessment at this school is what I heard from administration leading the discussions.   Ultimately, what we want are self-directed learners (as stated on the school’s website), not regurgitators.  We want students to produce interesting stuff.  We don’t just want them to memorize information.  We want them to use information to create new products and ideas.  To paraphrase one administrator:  we want content to be the way we awaken curiosity in our students.

     I can live with that.

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